TOKYO Sony Corp. has promised to disclose the software specifications of its Open-R Architecture for Aibo robots to provide an open development environment for robotics research, making Aibo the hardware platform.
The Open-R Software Development Kit (SDK) will be available at Sony's Aibo Web site starting June 3, and will be offered free of charge on condition that the results be used only for non-commercial purposes. Sony will continue to request a license contract for those who intend to sell commercial software based on the Open-R architecture.
Open-R, which Sony proposed as an architecture for entertainment robots in 1998, features modularized hardware and software. Besides the animal-like Aibo, Sony's humanoid SDR series of robots is also built on the architecture. The Open-R SDK, however, will support only the lion-type Aibo (ERS-210) and the more-recent mechanical Aibo with wireless LAN capability (ERS-220), since a PC and Aibo have to communicate through a wireless LAN for debugging.
Sony has already opened the Open-R specs on a nondisclosure basis to universities that are participating in the RoboCup robot competition. The same information will now be posted on the Web for others to use.
"To foster the robot industry, it is mandatory to open the architecture," said Tadashi Otsuki, deputy president of Sony Entertainment Robot Co. "We want to invite many researchers to join the [robotics] development." Sony expects that the disclosure will activate research and education in software technologies such as robotic movement control and artificial intelligence using the existing Aibo platform.
The Open-R SDK includes the Open-R software specifications, application programming interface library files, header files, system files to be stored in an Aibo-programming Memory Stick, tools to generate binary codes, source code for sample programs and a manual. The kit operates in the PC environment on machines equipped with a Pentium running at better than 233 MHz and Windows 2000 or XP.
Based on the software specifications, users can program Aibo behaviors and movements in C++. Included are details of the API for a system layer called the "level-2" interface, which makes it possible to directly program Aibo's various functions such as the movement of joints, getting and handling data from sensors and image sensors, and wireless LAN communication.
Aibo employs a MIPS CPU with a clock cycle of 192 MHz and a 32-Mbyte main memory.
The 18 sample programs initially offered will allow an Aibo to track a ball, to move its head and legs, and to lie down. Sample communication between objects will also be provided. These codes can be modified and redistributed freely.
Among Aibo enthusiasts, some voices are calling for even more openness: a Linux-like open environment for Aibo. But "it's not open-source, like Linux," said Otsuki. Sony has still not disclosed the inside of the Open-R system-layer API or Aibo's hardware circuit schematics.
Sony treats the free SDK environment separately from commercial programs called "Aiboware." Functions in the commercial packages such as walking, voice recognition and object recognition, and MIDI sound playback are controlled by Sony's proprietary Open-R middleware layer or by an application layer called the "level-1" interface. Since the level-1 interface is not part of the SDK, the free development kit cannot be used to modify Aiboware.
Sony recently demonstrated the latest prototype based on the architecture. Its second humanoid robot, dubbed SDR-4X, showed much-improved walking control and better communication capability than the first-generation unit. Real-time integrated adaptive-motion control enabled the robot to walk on rough or irregular surfaces, and up a 10° incline.
"If everything goes satisfactorily, we will be able to announce its marketing plan [for a commercial version] within this year," said Toshi T. Doi, corporate executive vice president of Sony and the president of Sony Digital Creatures Laboratory.